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Alcoa turns down binding arbitration option to end 13-month ABI aluminum smelter lockout

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Alcoa turns down binding arbitration option to end 13-month ABI aluminum smelter lockout

  • Editor
  • Bob Matyi
  • Commodity
  • Metals

Louisville, Kentucky — Alcoa will not be entering binding arbitration talks with the United Steelworkers union to end a lockout now into its 14th month at the 450,000 mt/year Aluminerie de Becancour aluminum smelter in Quebec, it said.

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The Pittsburgh-based company's decision comes as roughly 700 members of USW Local 9700 at the smelter voted unanimously over the weekend to request binding arbitration, union spokeswoman Clairandree Cauchy said Monday.

Some 1,030 union workers have been locked out since January 11, 2018, and sporadic talks have failed to produce a breakthrough so far.

In a statement released by spokesman Jim Beck, Alcoa said its management "remains committed to resolving the labor conflict and improving the long-term productivity of the smelter."

And while the company has "always negotiated in good faith" and submitted competitive proposals to the union, "arbitration will not ensure ABI's future. Alternate processes are not the appropriate solutions to resolve the conflict."

Cauchy said, however, that Alcoa also "canceled all bargaining meetings that were scheduled" in the coming weeks.

That leaves the USW with few options. They include giving in to Alcoa's demands, which Cauchy said will not happen, or again asking the Quebec government to intervene in the dispute.

When he was running for Quebec premier last fall with the center-right Coalition Avenir Quebec, Francois Legault promised a muscular approach to dealing with the lockout if elected. Legault won the election, but little has happened since to change the dynamics of the lockout.

"At this point," Cauchy said, "we want the Quebec government to put some pressure on the company."

Alcoa, she added, "does good business in Quebec with three different aluminum plants" that have favorable power rates from Hydro Quebec, the province-owned electric company.

The union contends the province has lost in excess of $200 million during the lockout on absent electricity sales because the smelter has barely operated in recent months.

Soon, Alcoa is expected to start contract talks with a union representing hundreds of employees at its 437,000 mt/year Baie-Comeau aluminum smelter in Quebec. That agreement expires in May.

-- Bob Matyi,

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